An Unexpected Gift

Indian Paintbrush ~ Castilleja indivisa

Last year, I discovered my first Indian paintbrush of the season on February 7. Much to my surprise, I found this lovely plant blooming on this year’s Christmas Day. Whether a leftover from the last season or a harbinger of the season to come I can’t say, but its pastel bracts and fully formed flowers were a lovely gift from Nature.


Comments always are welcome.

42 thoughts on “An Unexpected Gift

    1. Like crow poison, Gaillardia, and camphor daisy, Indian paintbrush has a delightful ability to appear any time during the year. When I first began paying attention to native plants, it amazed me to find so many blooming in January; even after last year’s freeze — only a week after I found last year’s first paintbrush — they were blooming again in only two weeks.

      1. It must be a lovely surprise to find native plants blooming at unexpected times of year. Here I notice the tiny wild daisies still in the lawn and coping with the frost. I admire their determination to keep going! The paintbrush is lovely – the delicate transitions of the different shades of orange do make me think of a paintbrush.

    1. Not necessarily. As I mentioned to Steve, we have a number of wildflowers that tend to bloom throughout the year, coming and going as conditions change. It was one of the things that astonished me when I began paying attention to native plants in 2005. I expected January to be empty and bleak, but it certainly wasn’t. Not everything is a sign of upside down seasons, thank goodness.

    1. Their primary season is spring, of course. That’s when the fields fill with them and onlookers ‘oooh’ and ‘aaah.’ But they will pop up in every month, especially at the refuge. There’s something about conditions there that seems favorable for wildflowers. I assume it’s due in part to the watery environment that helps to keep things a few degrees warmer.

    1. The paintbrush is beautiful. In summer, their color is far more vibrant, but I enjoyed finding this one sporting more pastel shades. In their own way, those wood storks are beautiful, too. Well, handsome, maybe. I’m glad you saw ‘yours’ again. They seem to accept other species quite readily. Perhaps because they’re so large, they’re not intimidated, or maybe they’re just party animals!

  1. Climate change, alas. Probably why we had a high of 78 F/25.5 C on Christmas day, for crying out loud! That lovely salmon pink is a bit too orange for me to get away with. However, I’m perfectly content to admire it from afar.

    1. There’s no question that the climate’s changing, but these Indian paintbrush aren’t a sign of those changes. Especially in our coastal counties, they’ll show up in every month, depending on conditions. Now, if I were to see fields and ditches filling with them in January, that would be something else. But in several days of cruising Brazoria, Galveston, and Ft. Bend counties during past days, and visiting three refuges, this was the only one I saw. It was a surprise, but it’s still an outlier.

      The color intrigued me. In late spring, they tend toward a truer red. I’ve seen both pink and white ones, too, so it’s hard to say if this one’s shade is a natural variation or a result of environmental variables.

      I thought of you today when I passed a couple of large fields still heavy with unharvested cotton. Other fields are harvested and plowed, so it may be that the ones unpicked are lower, and have been too wet to get the machinery in.

  2. I had just replied to your email in astonishment and then we left to drive to DFW and I saw one on the backroads to Madisonville a few hours ago. warm weather…

    1. Isn’t it funny how we don’t see something until someone mentions it, and then, poof! there it is. It can take a while, but if I say, “I’ve never seen [fill in the blank] and I wish I could,” the wish gets fulfilled. It happened with basketflowers and white prickly poppy. The darned plants are everywhere, but it took quite a while for me to be able to ‘see’ them right in front of me.

      I hope you trip was an easy one. Back roads are a good thing any time, but this time of year, especially.

  3. And my American Basket flowers are still blooming! This morning I transplanted some winter rosettes in the “new” garden that *should be* basket flowers. Those crazy things will be everywhere! I’m also seeing the tiny native bees still working them! Yay for wildflowers who grace us with their presence…whenever!

    1. And yesterday I found one of ‘your’ Gaillardia blooming exactly where I find them every year at Brazoria: next to a gate at the far end of the auto route. There has to be something about the conditions in that spot, because even after the freeze last year they popped up fairly quickly. Apparently if a plant finds a spot it likes, it sets up shop and stays.

      Even better, the Gaillardia was hosting a hoverfly. There will be a photo!

    1. There may or may not be an early spring, but you can’t depend on an Indian Paintbrush to tell you: at least, not in our coastal counties. When ‘real’ spring is near, these begin filling ditches and roadsides first; so far I’ve not seen a single one alongside the roads, and only this one in the refuges. The word ‘outlier’ comes to mind, but that doesn’t make them any less fun to see.

    1. These are especially beautiful in their season, when the color tends more toward a vibrant orange-red, but I thought this one equally lovely. That peachy-pink always reminds me of those 1960s fruit punches that were served at bridal showers.

  4. Dates for migration, egg dates, breeding, inflorescence etc are all changing. We have primulas blooming at the front of the house – unheard of in December.

    1. If you’d like one more proof of a changing climate, consider this: I’ve yet to need long underwear at work this year. Traditionally, I had to don that kind of apparel a few times in December, but not in the past two or three years.

      While this plant is perfectly happy to bloom in any month, there are other plants that are behaving like your primulas. Friends who have peach trees are keeping a close eye on the number of chill hours they can expect. Last year, it stayed so warm so long they were afraid of poor production, but then we got our February freeze. That added chill hours in a hurry, and the crop was fine, but personally, I’d prefer fewer radical swings.

    1. Isn’t it nice that we both still have flowers? My friends who garden have riches akin to yours, but it always tickles me to see a plant with a mind of its own pop up somewhere.

  5. How wonderful, seeing such a typically Spring flower in bloom in the dark days of Winter! Congrats, Linda, on spying it and thanks for sharing it here.

    1. You remember that old hymn, don’t you — “Lo, How an Indian Paintbrush E’er Blooming”? This little gem made for a perfect Christmas flower. Even a Christmas rose would be envious, don’t you think?

  6. Occasionally, we see Indian Paintbrush here in Florida, where it has been introduced by landscapers. I think the highway department has used it in median strips in parts of the state.

    We miss the colorful displays we took for granted as we rolled around Texas in our other lifetime.

    1. I got quite a surprise when I did a search for ‘Florida paintbrush.’ Instead of anything resembling our Indian Paintbrush, I got a multitude of returns for Carphephorus corymbosus, which blooms purple, is in the sunflower family, and looks for all the world like our blue mistflower. Behold the Florida Paintbrush! Gotta watch those common names!

  7. I have been surprised, too, to see different wild plants blossoming at unexpected times. I think you’re correct that it seems to happen in micro climates or areas where conditions don’t tend to extremes as the seasons change. This is a beautiful flower.

    1. There’s no question that micro climates are involved, and it seems that ‘micro’ can be very small indeed. There’s one section of ditch along a levee in the Brazoria refuge — about 30 feet long — where Gaillardia pop up every winter. It can be great fun to see them blooming in the midst of their seed heads. I keep a little list of places where I find out-of-season plants, and more often than not, I can go back and find them again in future years.

  8. A nice gift indeed. I saw a dandelion the other day. LOL I do envy you Texas folks for the length, either beginning or ending, of your flowering season. Yes, I do get frost and ice to photograph but given a choice….

    1. Well, we’re sharing dandelions, then. There’s a stretch of highway in a nearby town where our native ‘dandelion’ will pop up along the railroad tracks, and I saw a few on Sunday.

      Even absent the current unusual warmth, or a nasty freeze, we do have a short and relatively mild winter. January and early February are generally the coldest time. When I moved here, the first gardening tip that came my way was that roses should be pruned on Valentine’s Day. Our winter bedding plants are snapdragons, pansies, cyclamen, and geraniums. When summer comes, some people bring their geraniums into the air conditioning until things cool enough in the fall for them to go back out!

  9. Ah Linda,
    What a heart warming surprise for you to see your Indian paintbrush appear at this time of the year. I love the colour.
    If I have not already done so, I wish you and yours a happy, healthy and peaceful new year.

    1. Thanks so much for those good wishes, Margaret. I think everyone is more than ready for better health and a little more peacefulness, but we’ll see what the new year brings. I hope it’s a good one for you, too. It ought to be interesting, that’s for sure!

      1. Yes, I know they are Linda and those wishes were directed personally to you. We certainly will see what 2022 brings as, I suppose is always the case in life, but the challenge of Covid 19 is certainly common to us all although affected in different ways.

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